Hallmark Media alum Michael Rady has cause for celebration this weekend with the premiere of Unexpected Grace -- it will mark his 10th movie since joining the Hallmark fold in 2015. "Wait, should we add them up?" he laughed during an exclusive interview with MediaVillage. "The Christmas Bow, Cloudy with a Chance of Love, You're Bacon Me Crazy, A New Year's Resolution, Two Turtle Doves, Love to the Rescue, A Joyous Christmas, Christmas at Pemberley Manor … I've missed a few. (Editor's note: Rady missed Christmas in Homestead.)
"Hallmark movies are wonderful and always fun to make," he continued. "You're working with good people, and the fans are so effusive and wonderful. What's interesting is that you can't easily profile a Hallmark fan. My parents are Hallmark fans, my neighbors, and even the guy who fills up our oil tank. Often, I'll be in an audition and the casting director on the way out will be like, 'By the way, I love your Hallmark movies.' I'm so grateful to be a part of that and the fact that I've been able to do 10! Oh my gosh, that's wild and a nice little feather in my cap."
For Grace, Rady teams with Erica Durance (above, left) to portray Jack McCabe, a widower who, along with his young daughter Grace (Erica Tremblay), has relocated to the small town of Ashton for his job. Desperately lonely, Grace is trying to adjust to her new surroundings and find a new friend. When she finds the remains of a party balloon lodged in a tree, with an attached note asking the author to become a pen pal, Grace jumps at the idea, completely unaware that Toni (who wrote the note) has long passed away. When Toni's mother Noelle (Durance) receives a reply to the note, they strike up an innocent written exchange. It's only when Grace attempts an in-person meeting that Noelle realizes she must reveal a truth she's not ready to admit to herself -- that her beloved daughter is gone. As the trio bond over Noelle's loss, they form a fast friendship, and with the second anniversary of her loss looming, her new-found friends could be the ones to help her navigate it.
While Rady is thrilled with the finished movie, he gave some insight into what first attracted him to it. "Full disclosure, the first draft of this was incredibly different," he recalled. "I thought it was an independent film Hallmark purchased as it was very dark. Jack was an alcoholic, barely getting by, and tripping over himself. I was like, 'This is really dark, but it's exciting.' I guess I knew that it would evolve, as it wasn't quite Hallmark. Then it went through the Hallmark machine. I don't think many people knew of the original script except me and Erica; when we mentioned it, everyone was like, 'What are you talking about?' We're like, 'That's the script we were sent!'
"I'd never seen anything like that before," he added. "There are so many beats along the way of this story that are unique. I've never seen characters offer something or say something along the lines of what these two people are struggling with, which makes for a very unique union. Romance isn't on the surface, and it's about a more profound connection. It was interesting for Erica and me to play with some of the scenes, and the material, involving close proximity. Whether it was a handhold or a head on a shoulder, it became very clear we weren't singularly trying to tell a romantic story here. More importantly, it's about humans helping each other along this path of grief."
The film may sound like a tear-jerker on the surface, but it is steeped in reflection and hope. "Having Jack and Grace come into Noelle's life brings her perspective and shows her that by putting one foot in front of the other, she is bringing beauty into the world, even though the most beautiful thing in her world is gone," Rady explained. "I think they're reflecting that back, and that [by] doing this, you are courageous, brave and wonderful. That lifts her up and gives her more bravery to take the next step of carrying on with a hope for a new beginning."
Despite having mutual friends, Rady and Durance had not met before filming. "We became fast friends," he said of their meeting. "She's so good because there were so many tricky things in this story. She figured them out. And she has a wonderful sense of humor. We laughed the whole time, and that was so needed. I'm also thankful that we found Erica Tremblay, as she was the perfect match. She taught [us] so much about technology. I have four kids, not yet teenagers, but she educated me and Erica on things like kids' screen time, and [how] teenagers [are] in high school. She made us feel like 80-year-olds!"
As Unexpected Grace touches on teen loneliness, something Rady admits is "a reality" due to what the world has recently gone through, fate (the movie's other major through-line) is something he has an interesting take on. "I don't think I do believe in it," he revealed. "I think it's fun in hindsight when certain stars align. It's probably a more interesting, romantic and enchanting world to live in believing in fate.
"But I also like my free will, so I'm really torn," he added in closing. "I believe we all make choices and we're the result of the sum of all of those choices. You've also kind of determined how it's going to go by making those choices. We're at least affecting the fabric of our lives, our existence and our trajectory."
Unexpected Gracewill be telecast Sunday, March 12, at 7 p.m. on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.
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